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Photograph by Charlie Nucci

Spongy sourdough, duck meatballs and fava-bean purée highlight a divine menu.

Gift of The Gods

Evvia's Greek influence deserves a bow from above

By Aaron Robinson

AFTER NINE years, Evvia Estiatorio's reputation for being a first-rate dining mecca still precedes it—and the Thursday night we visited, we steeped in the myth. It was a warm summer night, so the sliding-glass wall-doors were opened, allowing gusts of sweet pollen to sweep in from Palo Alto's urban forestry and mingle with the rich sent of mesquite charcoal. Sitting there amid the chattering crowd, a few table lengths from a stone hearth where a busboy lightly stirred a pot of muddy Greek coffee, my girlfriend and I took in deep breathes of savory aromas, exhaling sighs of Mediterranean comfort.

The set designers for Troy could not have schemed a better design—the ambience is simply surreal. Garlic braids and copper pots hang from a mantel that stretches the length of the kitchen. A wall of colored bottles, sporadically situated large wooden barrels and shelves of artful ceramics—all transported our minds into another time, as we were now guests attending Zeus and Hera's wedding on an island somewhere off the coast of southern Greece.

Reaching into a hand-woven wicker basket, we tore thick pieces of spongy sourdough to dip in a savory olive oil that was so flavorful it needed no enhancement. Every dish had an appeal. Our server John stood in for Dionysius (the god of food and wine), answering inquiries and offering suggestions. He pointed us toward the papia keftedes ($8.95)—duck meatballs with oregano, orange and fava-bean purée. The meatballs were flattened into patties and, since they were grilled, bore that distinct mesquite flavor, softened by the light citrus-herb, hummuslike purée. It was a small portion but very tasty.

Retsina ($7), a traditional Greek white wine flavored with pine resin, was mood-fitting with a uniquely refreshing aroma of fresh-cut Christmas trees. Perfect for a starter course, we also added a foursome of dolmathes ($6.50)—grape leaves stuffed with rice, currants and pine nuts.

For our next course, John spent time making a calculated split of the Evvia salad ($7.95) with baby lettuces, ripened, sweet Bing cherries, toasted pine nuts, creamy, slightly citrus manouri cheese and basil vinaigrette. It doesn't take much pondering to image how scrumptious the combination of these flavors was.

If there was an Olympic category for "most succulent and tender lamb chops ever," Evvia's simple formula of taking four double-thick chops ($26.95) and rubbing them with olive oil, garlic, lemon and oregano, grilling them to perfection and fanning them over steak frylike potato wedges would hands down win the gold medal.

I've never been impressed when it comes to the wines of Greece, since I rarely come across a stimulating bottle. Then again, I never sampled the Amethystos Cabernet from Drama ($12). Crafted in a Bordeaux style, this soft and balanced vintage was on a par with some of France's best, and it paired with the lamb affluently.

It was after the first bite of my date's entree—a skewered coriander ono ($17.95), grilled and placed atop a generous portion of buttery lime-flavored faro (a whole-grain wheat variety), sun chokes, spring onions and baby dandelions—that we began to joke at the thought of a restaurant run by gods and the chef, Poseidon, holding out his hand so that our one perfect fish could leap out of the sea and onto the grill.

As the celebration wound down, we crossed forks one last time over two magnificent desserts (both $8), a traditional baklava with frosty, white homemade lemon ice cream, and a very thick and mild Arborio rice pudding over a walnut kataifi (a shredded phyllo dough cake with nuts and cinnamon). On top of the pudding were fresh apricot and laurel compotes. Both desserts were ambrosia and nectar all the way.

Finishing up our last sip of muddy Greek coffee ($5), we really didn't want to leave. We were ready to retire to a bathhouse to be fanned and fed grapes. But, oh well, back to reality.

Evvia Estiatorio
Address: 420 Emerson St., Palo Alto
Phone: 650.326.0983
Hours: Lunch 11:30am-2pm Mon-Fri; dinner 5:30-10pm Mon-Thu, 5-11pm Fri-Sat, 5-9pm Sun

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From the June 30-July 6, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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